What Makes AFCEA Work?
Being an AFCEAN for many years gives one a unique perspective on what makes AFCEA International so successful. As with any good organization, AFCEA comprises several elements that work well together. And, as for any organization that has continued to thrive over several decades, an examination of AFCEA’s successes should help pinpoint areas to make the association as a whole even stronger.
The highly capable professional international headquarters staff has provided the outstanding leadership necessary to keep our organization thriving as we begin the 21st century. This staff provides great support to the backbone of the organization—the AFCEA chapters. However, this small headquarters staff by itself could never support all of the ongoing activities, education, scholarships, fund-raisers and membership drives that make AFCEA so strong. The chapters help make this great organization what it is today, and the backbone of each chapter is its individual volunteers.
The key links between headquarters and the chapters are the regional vice presidents, or RVPs. Dedicated volunteers, the RVPs play a vital role in making things happen. However, they not only ensure that chapters and members are recognized, but they also make sure that members’ inputs are heard loud and clear at AFCEA International headquarters. With one foot in the chapters and the other squarely planted in headquarters, RVPs are the conduit for communications between chapter members and headquarters.
Each chapter takes on the character and personality of its members. The success of a chapter lies within its leadership and rank and file membership, all of whom are volunteers. Those unfamiliar with AFCEA might ask what motivates individuals to serve the organization, willingly giving up free time, ideas and energy for the good of the association. Obviously, there are rewards that motivate individuals. Each year AFCEA recognizes numerous individuals with tangible rewards at both AFCEA West in San Diego and TechNet International in Washington, D.C. However, this involves only a small percentage of members who freely donate their time and energy to our association. Therefore, there must be other individual rewards for all of the hard work and volunteer time: the knowledge that members are contributing to something bigger than themselves.
In my geographical area of responsibility, the superb chapters of the association’s Virginia Region seem to be motivated by several relevant factors. These chapters provide a forum for the exchange of technical ideas between government and industry. Each chapter has an outstanding slate of luncheon speakers, who for the most part are selected based on the membership makeup and interests. Each chapter has fund-raising activities to fund scholarships and technical projects for the schools and community events.
Last year, for the first time the Tidewater and Hampton Roads Chapters embarked on a joint venture with a regional symposium, Transformation TechNet. The event took requirements for individual volunteering and chapter cooperation to a new level. Historically, differing local interests isolated the chapters. Yet, with cooperation they were able to pull off a highly successful event, and we are now looking forward to Transformation TechNet becoming an annual event in the early June time frame.
As the regional vice president for Virginia, I would like to be able to take credit for putting the event together. However, the reality is that individuals from the membership of both chapters volunteered much time and effort to make the event successful. AFCEA International Headquarters provided organization and leadership support, but the actual legwork was performed by a host of individuals from each chapter. Thankfully, Frank Richardson was experienced from his San Antonio Chapter assignment and provided strong leadership and organizational skills for the symposium committee. However, the chapter individual members and organizational sponsors were the enablers for success.
What was the reward for these individuals? The reward was the knowledge that they had created a useful, enduring forum for discussing the most important issue facing our national security team in the new century: the transformation of our military.
AFCEA works because of good leadership from the top down. Members feel a sense of ownership in the goals and objectives of the organization. Although headquarters provides benefits to all, the organization provides flexibility for chapters to pursue regional and local community affairs. In that respect, AFCEA is a very unique professional organization focused on needs and opportunities of the individual members to achieve more than they could by themselves.
To make the organization even stronger, we need to focus to a greater degree on our members and continue to recognize them for their tireless, selfless efforts. By genuinely listening to each member and recognizing the individual strengths and talents each member has to offer, AFCEA not only will continue to thrive but also will strive to new greatness as it moves into 2004.